Photo: Xavi Torrent / Getty Images.
Going to festivals when you’re in your 30s is a sticky proposition. It’s hard not to feel old if you’ve been to Coachella, HARD, Lollapalooza or any youth-driven event. Your body has begun to deteriorate, and even science suggests music doesn’t give us the same rush it used to. To wit, it becomes more and more difficult to have a good time as time takes its inevitable toll on you. At least that’s been the story my body’s been telling me.
I traveled to Barcelona to experience Primavera Sound – a rock-leaning festival set on the brutalist beachside Parc del Forum. And it confirmed all the rumors I’d heard over the last decade; it is easily one of the best, if not the best, major music festivals in the West.
Day 1 – Wednesday
I arrive late the night before the fest officially kicks off and walk around the streets looking for a beer. You can drink on the street here, which reminds me of New Orleans, where I was raised. You can’t even drink a beer in most areas of Coachella, FYF, Camp Flog Gnaw, or other California festivals I’ve been to in the past few years. You have to be in a designated “adult area”, which is super lame. Another bonus: the festival is walking distance from my hotel. This year when I went to Coachella, we were put up 30 miles away from the festival, making it a $100 Uber trip (each way). No bueno. Wednesday is free and intended for the locals who can’t afford or otherwise attend the festival, which is a smart move. I meet members of local bands on the street who were still buzzing after their Primavera debuts earlier that day.
Day 2 – Thursday
The festival proper starts today. In line (the shortest I’ve experienced at one of these things; they are often a nightmare on day 1), I immediately know something is up when I see ZERO flower crowns or Native American headdresses. The people here are beautiful and stylish but in a totally different way than Coachella. They’re less contrived and less try-hard. There’s an effortlessness to the style. I meet people from all over Europe, America, Australia, Morocco, Japan. At Coachella, it’s mostly people from white countries (UK, France, Australia). It’s refreshing to be in much more mixed company.
There are many stages at this festival, spreading out the crush. It’s like musical tapas. A new stage they introduced for this edition is a beach bar, which is fantastic. I put on a wristband and went for a dip in the Mediterranean while listening to Erol Alkan and Rory Phillips warm up the crowd. For some reason Har Mar Superstar is DJing today too, which I will definitely skip. But I wonder how some of these Myspace era holdovers like Har Mar have somehow eked out careers being alt-celebrity DJs. Gross.
Later that day, I catch Air and Suuns who turn in formidable performances. I try to get into Floating Points “dad techno” but it’s really just a snoozy math rock performance. Pass. Vince Staples turns in a great set. But the star of Day 1 is undeniably John Carpenter, who is 68 years old. He’s the guy who directed countless horror classics like Halloween, They Live, The Thing, and The Fog; he also wrote all the music for those films. I realize halfway through his set that he is the most influential person in BOTH film and music history.
I decide to skip the LCD Soundsystem’s “reunion show”. I’d already caught it at Coachella, and let’s be honest, it’s not a “reunion” but a cashgrab by Murphy to support his wine bar and other gout-inducing dalliances.
I leave the festival around 2am to go back to my hotel, with the plan on returning to see Optimo spin their wizardry at the beach tent from 4am-6am. But I’m blocked from re-entering after 3am. This is the only time I’m truly disappointed at the festival. I missed the memo that you can’t re-enter after 3am. Didn’t read the fine print.
On the walk home, another thing strikes me: there are very, very few “surprise” guests at Primavera. This is a crutch that fests like Coachella rely on, and it’s pretty clear that Primavera is not interested in such gimmickry.
Prosumer tip: Buy beach weed from the dealers on the way home. The weed here sucks, but it’s worth the placebo effect.
Day 3 – Saturday
I see outsider house guru DJ Koze twice today. Once at 4pm, once at 4am. I am tipped to catch Kiasmos – an Icelandic warm house duo – who turn in a fantastic performance. The booking at this festival is absolutely killer. Though it’s a rockist fest at its core, there is something for everyone at Primavera. But the DJs they booked are not so garish in their broadness, like at Coachella. There is no Avicii, no Kaskade, or other talentless EDM DJ to attract kids on molly. There are plenty of people on pills at Primavera, but they don’t want to listen to the audio equivalent of trash when they’re high like so many American festival-goers.
While there is certainly a strong presence by the usual #brands, the fest isn’t celebrity-driven. There are no reality stars, Jenners, or other dbags to distract from the music.
Later on, I’m utterly put to sleep by Radiohead. For being such “pros”, they certainly have a way of alienating their crowd. But that’s like the most Radiohead thing you can do. I leave the main stage disappointed in Thom Yorke et al. but am blown away by Holly Herndon. She makes broken, esoteric post-vaporwave music that is somehow still very accessible. Instead of bantering with the crowd, she types on a projected screen. She gives a shout out to Chelsea Manning and urges the crowd to quit Facebook. Which is a very good idea.
But I’m most excited to see The Avalanches play for the first time in like a dozen years. They are responsible for my favorite album of all time, Since I Left You. There is a buzz in the air. They don’t go on until 2:50am. No one knows if they will come out as a ‘band’ or as ‘DJs’. It’s the latter. They string together dozens of tracks, but it’s way better and more nuanced than Girl Talk, and satisfy at least this viewer as they teased some of their first new music since 2000. From 4-6am I bounce around catching other DJs like Maceo Plex, DJ Koze, and Tiger & Woods. For not being a DJ-focused festival, the DJ bookings are stellar. Take note, US rock fests. This is how you do it.
Prosumer tip: Drink all the water.
Day 4 – Sunday
I arrive to festival extra late today. I’m told I’m early by local standards. It’s 7:30pm. Just in time to catch Brian Wilson do Pet Sounds and several other Beach Boys classics. It’s sad and beautiful and attracts a larger crowd than Radiohead. It’s sad mainly because of the terrible legacy of Mike Love – who hijacked the Beach Boys name and is a shameless Trump supporter, among other shitty things he’s done throughout his ugly time on earth. But Wilson and co. are the light to Mike Love’s darkness. Hope prevails.
I’m running on fumes.There’s that obligatory moment in any festival diary when you underscore how harried everyone is. I don’t make it long on this final day of the fest. I don’t care about seeing PJ Harvey’s comeback. It’s too wrist-slitty for my tastes. I want to make it to local hero John Talabot’s closing disco set from 4am – 6am but can’t muster it. I’m not the young man I once was.